Using passive voice in technical writing

Engineering PR | technical PR| technology PR
This man's voice doesn't look
very passive. Naughty man. 
So, the other night I was down the local and, low and behold, a fight broke out round the back of the boozer. It was a couple of geezers who just could not agree on the best use of passive voice in technical writing and engineering PR

By Richard Stone

Naturally, being the gentleman I am, I intervened and said, "listen fellers, I understand what an emotive issue this is. But there are some simple recommendations that you can apply to allow you to make better and easier decisions about incorporating this particular grammatical construction into your writing".

These were the recommendations I made:

1. The passive voice is common in scientific and report writing. As a result, it can sound authoritative when brought into play in technical content.

For instance, "the inverter was used to deliver improved energy and financial performance," might sound more impressive in a case study than, "company X fitted an inverter to save money on energy bills."

2. However, passive voice also removes the onus on the reader to take action. For instance, consider the phrase, "it is important that an inverter is fitted in order to save energy and money."

This makes me think, "Yes, that's true, energy efficiency is important - save the oceans and the whales and things. Quite right."

It doesn't make me think, "Damn and blast, I'd better get me an inverter quick-smart; otherwise someone is going to be asking me why I'm wasting more money than an honest nation bidding to host the World Cup."

In contrast, the active voice - "It's important that maintenance teams fit an inverter to avoid increased energy bills as the result of using more energy than required in the application," places the emphasis clearly on me, the maintenance manager, to buy an inverter.

As it happened both ruffians were happy with my resolution as it was exactly the question of authority versus using a call to action that they were discussing.

We agreed that in future, if they wish to encourage the reader to take action, they will ensure that they use the active voice. However, passive voice will be used on occasion in case studies to indicate authority.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Richard Stone

Stone Junction is a cool technical PR agency based in Stafford. We work for all sorts of businesses, with a particular focus on technology, technical and engineering companies. We like being sent cake and biscuits by clients, journalists and prospects.

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